Juvenile Incarceration’s Impact on Students

Juvenile Incarceration can have a big impact on high school students. Nearly 70,000 teens in the United States live in juvenile detention centers. Other thousands of teen inmates are being held in the detention centers waiting for trials. My father, who is a correctional officer at the juvenile detention center in San Francisco knows what happens to teens that get locked up and what could happen if they don’t change their ways. He has seen it all.

My twin brother and I did an interview with my dad to show what goes on in the detention centers:

Concerned sons: How likely is it that a kid will return after being detained?

Dad: Typically, we see the same kids in and out. I’ve seen kids come in as many as 13 times.

Concerned sons: What is the racial make up of the detainees?

Dad: I would say 80% black and 20% latino. Once in a while we would get a white, pacific islander, or asian kid.

Concerned sons: How many girls are in there?

Dad: There are 13 girls here now

Concerned sons: How many boys?

Dad: Around 40

Concerned sons: How often do kids fight?

Dad: A fight or near fight happens approximately once a week.

Concerned sons: Do the parents often come to visit the detainees?

Dad: I usually see a lot of mothers and grandmothers but rarely do I see fathers visit.

Concerned sons: Are they well disciplined in there?

Dad: We have rules that they have to follow. If they don’t follow the rules they have to spend more time in their room.

Concerned sons: Do they like the food in there?

Dad: No, but they eat it anyway because there is nothing else to eat. The food is not that bad because the staff will also eat it.

Concerned sons: Do they hate waking up early?

Dad: Not really because they know they have to get up to eat.

Concerned sons: Do they go to school there?

Dad: Yes they have school there but the standards are low for them to graduate.

Concerned sons: Do they ever graduate?

Dad: Yes, some of them do. Some of them don’t

Concerned sons: Do they start fights with teachers?

Dad: Yes but I haven’t seen them attack a teacher.

Concerned sons: Do they ever escape?

Dad: Yes I’ve seen multiple people escape in the past 15 years.

Concerned sons: How many kids have you known here ended up dying from violence after they’ve been released?

Dad: Five kids that I have known have gotten killed after their release.

Concerned sons: Do any kids have successful lives after they are released?

Dad: I have seen some go on to the penitentiary and some have gone on to college and have regular jobs.

Concerned sons: Do past detainees come and volunteer at the detention center?

Dad: Yes, they have a program with the Omega boys club. People come here to talk and motivate them to change. The program is on Monday and Wednesday nights.

Concerned sons: What do the detainees need for them to stop coming in the detention center?

Dad: They need education, structured programs, discipline, and mentors.

Concerned sons: How are gangs arranged in the detention center?

Dad: When they get admitted we ask them are they gang affiliated. Is there anyone you might have problems with? If they say yes we separate them. If they say no they go to the appropriate unit according to their age, size, and sophistication.

Concerned sons: Would you change anything at the detention center?

Dad: Some of the most violent repeat offenders are given too many chances. I would use the three strikes approach with them. On the 3rd violent charge I would send them to CYA (California Youth Authority) where they will be held until they are 25. This would be decided on a case by case basis.

Concerned sons: Have you ever fought with a juvenile?

Dad: I’ve never been attacked physically but I have been threatened verbally. They have attacked other counselors though. I have had to restrain them from potentially assaulting other counselors, teachers, and other detainees.

Concerned sons: What do the juveniles complain about?

Dad: Usually they complain about getting discipline which is basically extra time in their room for breaking a rule. They try to make up every excuse they can think of to get out of it.

Concerned sons: What’s the worst situation you ever been in?

Dad: I was in a riot here in the maximum security unit about 10 years ago when kids were bigger and wasn’t afraid to fight one on one. About 14 detainees all got up from eating their lunch at the same time and started fighting each other. Some detainees got hurt bad and a couple of officers had minor injuries. I wasn’t hurt.

Concerned sons: Do you feel sorry for the detainees?

Dad: No. Most of them know right from wrong and continue to go down that wrong path. I can usually tell after getting to know them for a while and seeing them come back so much if they are genuinely remorseful for what they’ve done. I have felt bad for a few of them over the years though because I know their situation at home was horrible.

Concerned sons: What’s the youngest kid you’ve ever seen come in?

Dad: The youngest I’ve seen was 11 years old.

These are the questions that we asked our father.

Concerned sons: What’s a typical day like for them?

Dad: They get up at 7:30am to eat breakfast. Go to school at 8:30am. Have a 15 minute break from school at 10:30am. Eat lunch at 12pm. Go back to school for 2 more classes. Then there is a shift change at 3pm. That’s when I come on. They come out for recreation time from 3:30pm to 4:30pm. Then they have visiting from 4:30pm to 5:15pm. Then they eat dinner at 5:30pm. They go in their rooms then come out for another recreation time from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Then they shower and go to bed.

Our dad always tells us to behave and to not get into trouble with the law. Bad things happen in adult jails . When kids travel down that path that is where they usually end up. It’s so bad, he does not even like talk about it. Notice that there is a big gap between the number of boys and girls. There are more boys than girls. Our dad told us there were brothers on trial for murder. They can go to prison for life. Kids in the detention center my dad works at can be held there until they are 18. Then they go to to a real jail. Gangs at juvenile are separated for safety purposes. He also told us that this kid escaped from his cell, through a window. That is ironic because the windows in every cell are very small. Escapes don’t usually happen a lot in there. Overall, a bed is always empty for a new comer.

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